A Young Journalist Brings a Family’s Political Ordeal to Life with a Podcast: True Story, Real People in Crooked Power – News
César Pérez and Maya Fawaz work on the podcast which tells the story of the persecution of Pérez’s father (Provided by César Pérez)
Cesar Perez, at 11, saw his father – publisher and co-owner of Ecuador’s largest newspaper – risk losing his freedom. Pérez learned firsthand what the truth could cost in his home country, but when he came to UT-Austin, he knew he wanted to be a journalist. He also knew, even before arriving, that he would have to find a way to tell his father’s story.
In 2011, the Ecuadorian newspaper El Unitedback faced persecution from the then president Raphael Correa, who sued the newspaper and its staff for an opinion piece rightly calling him a dictator. The columnist was threatened with three years in prison, while César’s father “Cheche” and other newspaper executives were sued for more than $40 million in damages. Pérez – with a UT graduate Maya Fawaz — expanded on his family’s story in a five-episode podcast titled twisted powerproduced by the Moody College of Communication Drag audio production Accommodation. “I felt like the human component of what’s happening behind closed doors was missing. And I was the one who could tell that story because I lived it,” Pérez says.
Pérez arrived at UT in fall 2018; that year, he took a course with a communication teacher Robert Quigley which introduced him to different narrative platforms. Pérez went to Quigley for advice on his father’s story, and Quigley suggested they do a podcast together, produced by the Drag, which had been founded that year. For Pérez, it was a no-brainer and the start of a three-year journey to bring history to life.
The podcast focuses on Pérez’s family and the human cost of authoritarian actions in a country where the First Amendment does not exist. “I think it’s a genre that’s actually perfect for that — it’s very intimate, very powerful, and very personal,” Pérez says. Fawaz adds: “You hear the emotion behind the words, you hear Cheche, Adriana [Pérez’s parents] tear, as they tell the stories. You hear Caesar. It…creates a lot more empathy between the audience and the story.”
In the summer of 2019, Pérez began his research in Ecuador, and the same year production of the story began. Fawaz, a Drag trainee at the time, also joined the team. Initially, she didn’t know much about Ecuador or its history and, as she puts it, “I probably didn’t even know where it was on the map.” As host and co-producer, she brings an outside perspective, which she says serves as a bridge to the podcast’s American audience.
“I felt like the human component of what’s happening behind closed doors was missing. And I was the one who could tell that story because I lived it. – twisted powerby Cesar Perez
The podcast took three years of hard work and overcoming obstacles. The COVID-19 pandemic was part of that, forcing Pérez to spend his entire freshman year in Ecuador, doing interviews and producing the podcast with his team remotely. Fawaz remembers how Pérez on Zoom would pull up a whiteboard in front of the camera and start writing down ideas, or how they would share videos and type on the same script, trying to coordinate 2,500 miles apart. “It was pretty funny. We were always like, ‘I wish I could show you my screen now,'” Fawaz said.
For Pérez, being in Ecuador to do all the interviews and living in the same household as the subject of the story has had its ups and downs. He could interview his family as often as he wanted, but it was difficult to find a balance between when it was time to ask questions and when it was necessary to step away from the story, which disturbed him. mentally as he relived the traumatic experience of his childhood. “I wasn’t disconnecting,” Pérez says. “It was like kind of a 24/7 shift, you know? I had to step away for a minute.”
Answering the looming questions of his childhood, however, had another effect, as he realized on a deeper level the importance of a free press and “the power of healing storytelling”. Now that the final draft is out, Pérez wants people to understand “the problem at the heart – we have to protect the freedom of the press because that’s how we create a better democracy”. Fawaz wants people to “be entertained and educated” when listening to the podcast.
They also want their audience to understand that it can happen anywhere, and while the United States has protections, Ecuador does not, Fawaz said, it is clear that the American press faces attacks and discredit. Whereas twisted power highlights the importance of a free press, Pérez also wants the project to serve as a thank you to his father.
“He taught me the most valuable lesson a parent can teach their children,” Pérez says. “He taught me the importance of standing up for what you believe in and what you think is right. No matter the cost.”
You can stream the twisted power podcast on Spotify and Apple.